“Unreliable and Thoroughly Undesirable”: Transnational Anti-Fascist Activism and the Problem of Police and Governmental Interference

Activity: Talk or presentationPublic or invited talk


Research paper presented in the panel "Setting the boundaries of transnational action" organized by Katja Castryck-Naumann (Leipzig) and Antje Dietze (Leipzig).

Paper Abstract:
When the Hungarian born anti-fascist and anti-stalinist Arthur Koestler attempted to enter the UK in 1940, British border patrol agents in Bristol initially refused entry and placed him in prison. Despite his impressive credentials as a transnational anti-fascist activist he was characterized by the authorities as “unreliable and thoroughly undesirable”. Using Koestler and other examples from the world of transnational anti-fascism this paper addresses the many obstacles and problems standing in the way of cross-border activism during the interwar period. It will focus on the active measures taken against these “undesirables” by governmental and intergovernmental agencies to hinder travels and networking in Europe and colonial territories. Rather than looking at these problems as a one-sided effort by governmental agencies, I argue that the active measures to hinder transnational activism in fact helped to renew and invigorate the means and methods of transnational activism.
The paper thus offers a way to re-think the history of transnational activism as an active learning process where transnational activists, on the one hand, and police and surveillance agencies on the other, pushed each other to develop new ways to both enable and (again) restrict transnational activism. As some avenues of activism were blocked, other perhaps unforeseen spaces and passages of activism were opened up in the process, while in many other instances transnational activism was altogether inhibited.
Period16 Jun 2021
Event titleSixth European Congress on World and Global History
Event typeConference
LocationÅbo, FinlandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • transnational history
  • antifascism
  • anti-stalinism
  • borders
  • policing
  • communism